Doing business in Spain

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Spain is a country in southwestern Europe, bordering France, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar and Morocco (Ceuta and Melilla). The country has a population of just over 47 million, and the official language is Castilian Spanish. There are also Catalan-, Basque- and Galician- speaking minorities in the country.

Spain had a powerful world empire during the 16th and 17th centuries. However subsequent failure to embrace the industrial revolutions caused Spain to fall behind in economic and political power. Spain remained neutral in WW2 but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936 – 1939). A transition to democracy following the death of Dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and rapid economic modernisation gave Spain a dynamic economy.

Business culture in Spain

In business, Spaniards are welcoming and visitors will be asked about their impressions of the country. Speak warmly of Spanish culture, history, cuisine, sporting achievements, writers or historical sites you have visited. Spain contains several different historical provinces and localities that each have their own distinct identity, cultural practices and traditions. For example, some regions have their own language, cuisine and literature that have developed through history. In appreciation of these provincial identities, Spain is split into 17 different regions, known as autonomous communities (comunidades autonomas). There is sensitivity surrounding the topic of local nationalism which can be seen in the Catalonia independence movement.

More and more Spanish companies have received foreign investment and embraced modern global management techniques. Consequently, the new generation of managers are less hierarchical and more team-oriented than the ‘old guard’. Building lasting and trusting personal relationships remains very important to Spaniards. The Spanish tend to distrust people who appear unwilling to spend the time or whose motives for relationship-building are unclear.

Spanish employees look to foreign managers to be open-minded and responsive to input, as they will want you to understand the local situation and preferred ways of doing things in Spain. Respect depends primarily on rank and status. Admired personal traits include confidence, poise, modesty and sociability. A smart appearance is important too. Whilst they have a good sense of humour, the Spanish are a proud people and don’t react well to irony, mockery or teasing.

Many organisations have now adopted flatter organisational structures and have gone through significant change. Decision-making is not necessarily hierarchical but disseminated and conducted in a more consultative way. That said, it is expected that the person in charge will make decisions. There is concern generally about risk and change – particularly when a decision has already been made or in ambiguous situations. In a recent survey 75% of Spanish young people expressed their desire to work in the civil service (ie. perceived as a job for life, fewer concerns about the future). In contrast, in the USA only 17% of young people would like it.

Decision-making can take a long time and requires patience. Attempts to rush or put pressure on the process could be counterproductive.

Communication in Spain is rather indirect. Spaniards prefer to be careful about what they say and how they say it. People may not get straight to the point when trying to get a message across. A co-worker who has an issue with you is more likely to discuss the issue with other co-workers and attempt to gain their support. Nevertheless, they are usually grateful if you are direct and raise the issue in a non-conflict manner. Confronting the person in a way that demonstrates mutual self-respect may often be greeted by a denial that any issue exists, but persistence will result in the issue being discussed. Confront people privately and in confidence and look for subtle messages to understand what may be communicated ‘between the lines’.

Spaniards expect long-term commitments from their business partners and focus on long-term benefits. While business proposals should demonstrate the benefits to both parties, neither side should take attempts to win competitive advantages negatively. It is important to remain non-confrontational throughout a negotiating exchange. Ultimately, Spaniards prefer a win-win approach. You will earn your counterparts’ respect by maintaining a positive, persistent attitude.

Finally, Spanish names are usually given in the order of first name, family names. Most people have two family names, the first one from their father and the second one from their mother. Use Mr, Mrs, Miss or Señor, Señora, Señorita plus the father’s family name, which is always the first one of the two family names given. If a person has an academic title, use it instead followed by the family name.

Alternative Description

Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Spanish colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Doing business in Spain' sample course outline.

Alternatively, we also provide Spanish language training, from beginners to advanced, delivered face-to-face, 'live' online or as a blended solution.


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